I'm a quarter century sober today. My last drink was 25 years ago. It was dark rum, which was all I could find. I vividly remember gulping some down for breakfast, praying it would stay down.
It didn't. I threw it up in the sink. Shortly after, I was in detox. Another painful three days, but this time, I followed it up with three weeks of treatment.
Treatment was something I resisted again and again, only agreeing to detox but then often drinking on my way home. They tried to make me go to rehab, and I said No No NO many times, but finally had to say Yes. If not, my organs, which were literally swollen and bleeding, would have bled out for good and I'd be a bunch of ashes on someone's mantle. How the hell the sobriety stuck for 25 years is amazing, and certainly an act of the old Gods and the new, for even though staying sober is my 'default', there is a beast inside me that wants to drug and drink every day. Right now. A mountain of Coke and Vodka please.
But I've learned a million ways to let the cravings pass, to grasp on to joy, to live with the darkness and absurdity and find some meaning. I find ways to escape reality. I run. I bike, I let my children teach me how to live. I also write a lot of dark fiction, much of it revolving around addiction. Writing is how I stick a knife in my heart and spill it all over the page.
Anniversarys always bring the annual questions from those around me, “Do you still want to drink?” I inevitably ponder if I should be honest (as I was above) or if I should lie in order to provide comfort to the loved one. I could say, “hell no! the idea makes me sick” in order to put them at ease, but I don’t want to mislead anyone. I eventually reply with a watered down version of the truth.
And the truth is, of course I want to drink. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t fully have this chronic condition. My alcoholism that lives within me sure as hell wants to, but I have learned how to cherish life and feel the full force of its joy, its sorrows, its pain, its ecstasies.
How did you do it?
In a sense, and based on the odds, it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and I’m so grateful that it ‘happened to me’, not just ‘because of me’. I put it that way because, in a sense, the best way to stay clean and sober is to ‘get out of the way and let it happen.’ It wants to happen, but all of our own fears get in the way, including a fear of success and living life to its fullest. Be patient, get out of the way, let it happen. Patience is perhaps one of the most essential strengths in being sober, especially the patience to ride out tough times. I’ve let bouts of depression, anger, hurt, and even rage blow through me by tying myself to the mast and feeling the full force of the hurricane until the storm passes.
And there have been storms, some due to the unexpected tragedy or two, but many of them from my own making. I’ve made plenty of decisions that set off a crisis. The irony is I used to be so scared my life would be unbearably drab and boring if I stopped using. That to stay clean was akin to ‘selling out to the man.’ That sober people are boring, mindless, shallow. They have no depth. They haven’t expanded their minds. They don’t like adventure. This is the kind of bullshit I used to tell myself and believe. The irony is, staying clean and sober is experiencing life unencumbered and is as bad-ass as it gets. It’s going to the dentist and getting a root canal without novacaine and feeling the rawness of your fully exposed nerves getting drilled by cold metal. (um, that’s just a metaphor). Bring it on, Gods and Devils, is that all you got?
I do hope I will die clean and sober. I expect to, but I do not take it for granted, for nothing is a given. One last irony: I used to be terrified of how I will die and pray that it happened in my sleep so I felt no pain. Now I think the opposite. I want to be fully aware of my last breath, to feel my death completely stone cold sober and soak out every last sensation of it, for we only die once. I want to know what it is like to feel death, and not die in some drunken blackout, but to be fully aware of my senses. Same way I am now experiencing life.
**Mark Matthews is a substance abuse therapist and author of addiction-based dark fiction including MILK-BLOOD, All Smoke Rises, and the newly released anthology: GARDEN OF FIENDS: TALES OF ADDICTION HORROR**
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